Reviewing Kayak Hull Designs and Hull Types

  • By KayakPro
  • Last Update: June 1, 2020

When I developed an interest in kayaking and fishing, it soon became clear to me that I couldn’t simply grab a kayak and get on the water, as much as I wanted to.

There’s a lot of small details about the hull of your kayak that is very important, even if you’re just planning a small trip down your local river. In this article, we’re going to explore everything you need to know about kayak hulls.

Basic Types of Hulls

There are four main types of kayak hull: Rounded, V-shape, Flat, and Pontoon. Each hull shape is optimized for different water conditions, and this is primarily a result of the differences in their speed, maneuverability, and stability.

Flat hulls have limited curvature, rounded hulls have some curvature, and V-shaped hulls a lot more, and pontoon hulls have a mixture of curvature and flatness. Let’s take a look at each of these hull designs and find out why.

Rounded Hulls

These hulls are made for speed and maneuverability. The rounded hull shape displaces the water more effectively than a flat hull because its curvature is more efficient. It’s the same reason sports cars are curved more, except they decrease the air resistance.

So a rounded kayak hull decreases water resistance for the same reason. And that’s what increases the speed and the ease of steering. These elements make rounded hulls good for choppy waters at sea and whitewater kayaking on rivers.

But there is a tradeoff. A V-shaped hull is less stable but faster. A flat hull is more stable but only efficient in calm waters. The rounded hull shape is one you can use to get some extra speed, without sacrificing good steering.

V-Shaped

v-shaped kayak
Source: Paddling.com

These hulls are also focused on speed, but not anything else. The hull shape cuts through the water, and this makes them extremely good at tracking in a straight line and enables them to move fast in a single direction.

This also makes them great for using over long distances and in tough water conditions. But because the hull design is so curved, maneuvering V-shaped kayaks can be difficult. To get that extra speed, stability and maneuverability have to be reduced.

If you look at the shape of this hull, you can see that on flat water, it would be easy to tip over. Rough waters push it back and forth, so the tracking ability allows these kayaks to move through those conditions.

Flat

These hulls are commonly seen as the beginner’s hull because they’re the most stable and they’re better for use on calm bodies of water like lakes and ponds. This makes them brilliant as playboats.

The flat shape reduces tilting and keeps the kayak balanced. But these qualities make them unsuitable for use in currents, like what you’d find in a river or the sea. This is because they don’t have much water resistance, and this makes it harder to steer in those conditions.

If you were facing bigger waves or whitewater situations, these kayaks would be much more likely to get pulled and pushed around. Kayaks with a flat hull design cannot track through the water as well as those with a V-shaped or rounded hull design.

Pontoon

These hulls are good for specialist activities, and they’re often used as fishing kayaks because their balance is strong, but so is their speed. These are the ways to combine the advantages of the flat hull and the rounded hull.

They’re easier to direct, but don’t give into tipping over as readily as a V-shaped kayak would. This makes them able to be used for fishing, which requires keeping the kayak still at the moment of fishing, but moving it on if you want to find a different spot.

They’re good all-rounders, but not if you prioritize speed above all else, because although they have more curvature than a flat hull, they have less than rounded or V-shaped hull designs.

Different Types of Chines

There is also another factor that needs to be considered that is a little less intuitive and obvious than the kayak shape. That is the hull chine. It refers to the line where the bottom and the sides of the kayak hull join together.

The chine changes the appearance of the kayak because the edges are either more or less pronounced. There are three types of hull chine, which I’ll discuss below.

Hard Chine

hard chine
Source: Pygmy boats

A hard chine is where the edges on the kayak are closer to 90 degrees. These come into use when performing carving turns, and allow the kayak to remain balanced whilst on its edge. However, sharp turns can easily flip the kayak over, because the edges can catch on objects and the surface of a river or lake.

As a result, harder chines require extra attention and training. This doesn’t necessarily you can’t use a hard chine if you’re a beginner, because if you train with a harder chine you will develop better control of your body and have a better feel for the motion of a river.

Most hard chines are less than 90 degrees because they’d be almost impossible to control, so a compromise is usually made between performance and forgiveness.

Soft Chine

Soft chines lack the sharp edges found on kayaks with hard chines. This makes them easier to control and predict the behavior of. The riverbed and objects will knock against or bounce off the kayak, but they won’t spin, flip or misdirect it.

This makes a soft chine kayak better for beginners who don’t want the extra challenges found with a harder chine. But this does reduce the effectiveness of carving, as the sharp edges are not there to use.

There is also a speed advantage with soft chines because the kayak shape ends up being more rounded, although if you want to surf then you’ll want the added performance available from sharper edges found on harder chines.

Multi Chine Kayaks

Multi Chine Kayaks

Multi-Chine Kayaks are often confused with soft chines and labeled as being the same. This is partly accurate, but the truth is these are simply a mixture of the hard and soft chine. Where the hard chine is very boxy, and the soft chine is curved, the multi-chine aims to bridge the two and achieve a compromise.

This is done from a desire to achieve kayak perfection by balancing all of the factors involved in their production, which is also why you find compromises such as pontoon hulls.

Primary Vs. Secondary Stability

Here is another very important consideration in kayaking. Both of these are essential components, but they are demonstrated in different ways. Most kayaks have both types of stability so they can handle more water conditions, but the priority given to each will differ.

They also play an important role in hull designs and kayak chines. I’ll discuss both of these and then explain how they relate to hull shapes and chines afterward.

Primary Stability

The primary stability of a kayak is how easy it is to get inside the kayak and paddle on the water with it, without any kind of tipping or flipping. Its a measure of how simple or complex it is to keep the kayak level with the waves. It is used to describe a kayak that is sitting flat on the water.

If your kayak lacks this, it will be harder for beginners to use and the performance of the boat will be reduced. You can test how much primary stability your kayak has by sitting on it in the water and feeling how jittery it is. You may find it improves if you track it in a straight line, which is a sign your kayak is made for high performance.

Secondary Stability

The secondary stability of a kayak is how firm and balanced the kayak feels when it’s leaning on its side, which is an important function in sea kayaking, where techniques such as rolling and bracing are very important.

This is a form of stability that can only truly be tested whilst the kayak is in motion. To do that, you’ll need to lean to both sides whilst performing a brace, and then if that is satisfactory, test out some carving turns to see how smoothly they can be executed.

Important Details

Each hull type emphasizes one or both forms of stability. Flat hulls have greater primary stability as they don’t tip over quickly, but less secondary stability as they are not good on rough waters.

Rounded hulls and V-shaped hulls have greater secondary stability because they’re better suited to leaning, but less primary stability as they are more vulnerable to flipping. Pontoon hulls aim to balance both, hence their combination of flatness and curvature.

Hard chines provide greater secondary stability because the sharp edges enable difficult sea-based maneuvers like bracing, rolling, and carving. Soft chines provide better primary stability because they’re less curved, but lower secondary stability because of their smoothness. And multi-chines are in between the two.

What Difference Does Rocker Make?

The rocker on a kayak refers to how curved it is from bow to stern, as opposed to how curved it is from one side to the other, which is how hull shape is determined. When a kayak is more rockered it will point upwards at either end and bump against the waves less, which decreases the water resistance and makes it simpler to maneuver.

But it will prevent effective tracking because the front and rear do not touch the water more often. When a kayak is less rockered it will be flatter from bow to stern, which will increase the water resistance and enable better tracking. So if your priority is turning and maneuverability, you’ll want more rocker. If your priority is speed, you’ll want less.

Conclusion

I’ve now introduced you to some of the key considerations regarding kayak hulls. You will have learned all about the different hull types, what the chine means, how important it is to seek stability, and what the rocker is for.

Equipped with this knowledge, I hope that if you were in the same position I was, you now have what you need to take the next step in your kayaking journey.

Kayak Hull Designs FAQs

The hull of a kayak is its shape from one side to the other. It may appear flat, slightly curved, extremely curved, or a mixture of the two, depending on the conditions of the water and activities it is best for.

Fishing kayaks are usually pontoon hulled, and beginners frequently practice on flat water with a flat hull. So the hull of a kayak is a visual display of its function.

There are various kayak designs, which factor in the hull shape, rocker amount, and chine type. The suitability of a design will depend on how proficient you are with a kayak, what purposes you want to use it for, and how choppy or calm the waters are going to be.

The information I’ve provided here should be enough for you to make an informed choice about that.

Put briefly, the superiority of a kayak will objectively depend on how much primary stability and secondary stability it has, plus how efficiently it maneuvers and tracks. Beyond that, it will depend on whether you have chosen the right kayak for your needs and whether you’ve got sufficient skill to use it.

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